What Bachmann learned from Palin — and Hillary Clinton

Of course, Bachmann hasn’t been tested in such high-profile contests as Whitman’s and Fiorina’s races, but as a GOP primary contender, she has managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that sank their candidacies.

One of Bachmann’s strategies is to address the experience issue head-on. During Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination in 2008, she offered a masterful narrative about her international travel and diplomatic work as first lady, her advocacy on behalf of women and children as an activist and a lawyer, and her record of bipartisan accomplishment in the Senate. Clinton’s claim, made in a campaign ad, that only she was prepared to answer that 3 a.m. phone call in the White House rested in part on the credible assertion that everything she’d done in her life had prepared her to be president.

Bachmann was taking notes. In a CNN debate in New Hampshire this summer, she introduced herself to voters by listing her professional credentials first: “Hi, my name is Michele Bachmann. I’m a former federal tax litigation attorney.” As a congresswoman, she’s clever enough to use the term “experience” to include articulating policy positions and hitting the airwaves to defend them. First elected to represent Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District in 2006, Bachmann has touted a legislative record that leaves an impression of bold leadership: She formed the Tea Party Caucus, opposed the bailout and stimulus bills, and is leading the effort to repeal President Obama’s health-care reforms. Most of that, however, amounts to little more than strongly worded statements.